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Pretty good for a bunch of plastic blocks
December 9, 2010 7:39 PM   Subscribe


 
Dear god, that's impressive. I was happy when I could get the drawbridge to lower on my 3 sided castle.
posted by deliquescent at 7:55 PM on December 9, 2010


Nerds gon' nerd.

Seriously, that's pretty awesome. I saw some Hitler History Channel documentary about the Antikythera mechanism's true function after they X-rayed it. I thought the general thinking was that it wasn't really unique (at the time of its invention).
posted by axiom at 8:00 PM on December 9, 2010


that it wasn't really unique (at the time of its invention)

That's the most awesome thing about the Antikythera Mechanism. There's no record of machines like this in the surviving textual sources-- assuming this wasn't the only complicated piece of machinery produced by (probably-)Alexandrian engineers, what other technology was around?

/Hellenistic history nerd
posted by oinopaponton at 8:11 PM on December 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Great Library :'''(
posted by BeerFilter at 8:14 PM on December 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


What a neat project for ├╝bernerds! The designing is more impressive than the building, to me - it seems like the Lego mechanism doesn't have much in common with the original Greek device, except for performing the same calculations. Presumably the designer had to use twice as many gears (including some differential gears, which the ancient Greeks didn't have) because Lego gears only come in certain sizes and ratios, so he had to figure out how to do his calculations using the available gear sets. In some ways, this might be harder than what the original Greek designer was up against - at least he could make his own custom gears.

Apparently the same guy has also tackled the Babbage Difference Engine. Serious hard-core nerdery, here.
posted by Quietgal at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


ThinkGreek
posted by The otter lady at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


There were other fairly complex timekeeping devices in ancient Greece. For example, water clocks.
posted by empath at 8:42 PM on December 9, 2010


assuming this wasn't the only complicated piece of machinery produced by (probably-)Alexandrian engineers, what other technology was around?
And thus, a new speculative fition subgenre was born, known as bronzepunk.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:28 PM on December 9, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm speechless ...
posted by Termite at 11:13 PM on December 9, 2010


Really well made video too.
posted by memebake at 11:30 PM on December 9, 2010


... but I agree with oinopaponton: the Antikythera mechanism becomes really interesting when you think about its implications. A thing like this does not exist alone, fully formed in a vacuum. There must have been predecessors (think about how watches, cars, cameras evolved). Behind it is an entire technology of precision gear making and a tradition of mechanichal thinking. What else did the Greeks use that technology for?
posted by Termite at 11:35 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Called it :)
posted by doctor_negative at 11:36 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't know the Antikythera had differential gears. It seems to let it do subtraction. Such a gear was 'invented' (reinvented) in the 1800s.

Ingenious--the original and this Lego recreation. It makes you wonder about all the other machines they supposedly had at the time that are completely lost to history.

Lego should sell this as a kit.
posted by eye of newt at 12:24 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just noticed Quietgal's mention of differential gears.

Apparently the Antikythera did indeed have differential gears, though not in the same shape as the Lego model.
posted by eye of newt at 12:34 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lego Greek Fire
posted by benzenedream at 12:45 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


By the way, does anyone have a good source for plans for the mechanism's parts? I have access to some prototyping tools (3d printer, laser cutter, etc) and would *love* to build a replica. A while ago I came across an academic paper by a group who'd been working on the MRI imaging but, while they released a video of a CGI model of the mechanism, I couldn't find a parts listing.

Anyone? Please?
posted by metaBugs at 3:58 AM on December 10, 2010


Lego Greek Fire

Somewhat disappointed that this was not a photo of someone with some legos, a can of hairspray, and a zippo lighter
posted by ook at 6:23 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Presumably the designer had to use twice as many gears (including some differential gears, which the ancient Greeks didn't have) because Lego gears only come in certain sizes and ratios, so he had to figure out how to do his calculations using the available gear sets.
Ah Quietgal, apparently it was worse than that. In this interview, the builder said that sometimes he needed eight gears where the original design used two.
posted by Nyrath at 7:28 AM on December 10, 2010


I guess it would be too much for Lego to start fabricating custom technic parts.
posted by keratacon at 7:37 AM on December 10, 2010


This is all very good, but why? Why did they want to predict eclipses, or more likely, display the prediction of eclipses? And what did that have to do with the Olympic Games?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:44 AM on December 10, 2010


The depressing part about this is the idea that we might go through a similiar loss of knowledge again.

Then, way in the future, people will go: "This so-called 'wakman' artifact we just found proves that the ancient people of the 20th century actually had magnetic tape and electric motors, which weren't invented again until 4412. And who knows, such devices might actually have been common then."
posted by Cironian at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2010


Why did they want to predict eclipses, or more likely, display the prediction of eclipses?

For Science!

Also, people always put all kinds of ridiculous shit on watches that they don't need.
posted by empath at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And thus, a new speculative fition subgenre was born, known as bronzepunk.

I'm afraid it's already here.
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:40 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And what did that have to do with the Olympic Games?

The Olympic games, which happened in 4-year cycles like the summer games do now (the Mediterranean climate isn't great for bobsledding, so no winter Olympics) were just the way ancient Greeks kept track of long periods of time (ie, any given year would be "year x of the XXth Olympiad). Not the most convenient method of dating, but then this is the Greeks we're talking about.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:07 AM on December 10, 2010


Why did they want to predict eclipses, or more likely, display the prediction of eclipses?

Eclipses were pretty important in a lot of cultures and prediction (or failure to predict) was too.

Plus why did these same guys try to figure out the volume of sphere and whatnot either: The challenge.
posted by DU at 9:15 AM on December 10, 2010


Cironian check out a charming childrens book on the subject by David Macauley Motel of Mysteries a distressingly funny read for any one interested in archaeology etc...
posted by supermedusa at 9:16 AM on December 10, 2010


The depressing part about this is the idea that we might go through a similiar loss of knowledge again.

Then, way in the future, people will go: "This so-called 'wakman' artifact we just found proves that the ancient people of the 20th century actually had magnetic tape and electric motors, which weren't invented again until 4412.


Someone pointed out a while back that should our civilization collapse, there isn't anywhere remaining on earth where it could start again - all the low-hanging fruit is gone. There are few or no rich veins of surface metals left, no easy sources of energy, etc of the scale needed to sustain the emergence of another technological civilization, the stuff that is left can only be reached if you already have technology, or is too small to last the distance.

The whole planet is Easter Island - if this civilisation collapses, there will never be another one.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Apparently the Antikythera did indeed have differential gears

Good grief, the Ancient Greeks had planar differential gears? Let's just call them Ancient Geeks and be done with it. (Unfortunately, that Java animation wouldn't run for me and I can't visualize how the setup worked from the diagrams - what's the yellow gear? Is it the idler?)

Personal totally amateur speculation about the limited application of Greek gear-based technology: if your gears are cut from sheet metal, they can't transmit much power because they're so delicate. So they are fine for clocks and automaton-type novelties, like the coin-operated water dispensers mentioned in Nyrath's link, but they'd crumple under any real load. So maybe the Greeks assumed that gears are intrinsically delicate things and didn't look for other applications.

Also, gears are (mostly) for slowing down or speeding up rotation, and in a world without engines, things are already pretty slow. You could speed up an animal-powered device with gears, but you lose torque - and there's not that much power available to begin with. So gears were probably pretty useless for horse-drawn farm equipment and the like.

Did they have windmills or water wheels? I seem to recall those were medieval innovations in the West, but those definitely had gear trains. So yeah, gears were an amazing invention that had to wait until power generation systems caught up - a solution in search of ... another solution.
posted by Quietgal at 10:08 AM on December 10, 2010


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